www.wvgazettemail.com U.S. and World http://www.wvgazettemail.com Gazette archive feed en-us Copyright 2017, Charleston Newspapers, Charleston, WV Newspapers Global warming could steal those postcard-perfect days http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170118/GZ0113/170119560 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170118/GZ0113/170119560 Wed, 18 Jan 2017 15:12:41 -0500 By SETH BORENSTEIN The Associated Press By By SETH BORENSTEIN The Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) - Global warming is going to steal away some of those postcard-perfect weather days in the future, according to a first-of-its-kind projection of nice weather.

On average, Earth will have 10 fewer days of mild and mostly dry weather by the end of the century, the researchers estimate. Some places will get more days perfect for picnics or outdoor weddings, while other places will lose a lot. Rio de Janeiro, Miami and much of Africa are big losers, while Europe and Seattle will gain nicer weather.

"It's the type of weather where you can go outside and do something fun," said study lead author Karin van der Wiel, a meteorology researcher at Princeton University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration . "It's not too cold. It's not too hot. It's not too humid."

For the past three decades, the world has averaged 74 mild days a year. But by 2035 that will shrink to 70 and then 64 by the last two decades of the century, according to the study, published Wednesday in the journal Climatic Change . Mild weather was defined as between 68 and 86 degrees (18 and 30 degrees Celsius) with low humidity and no more than a trace of rain.

Any change depends on where you live and the time of year. For example, on average, the U.S. will lose nine mild summer days by the end of the century, although most is gained back with more mild days in the winter, spring and fall. The report estimates that Washington, Chicago, New York and Dallas will lose two weeks of pleasant summer weather but some is gained back. On average, Washington loses 13 mild days; Atlanta, 12; Chicago, 9; Denver and New York, 6; and Dallas, 1.

The biggest losers will be the tropics and nearly all of Africa, eastern South America, South Asia and northern Australia. Rio de Janeiro, on average, will see 40 mild days disappear. Miami will lose its only mild summer day and nearly a month of spring and fall mild days by 2100.

"The changes are more dramatic in parts of the developing world, where you have high concentrations of populations," said NOAA climate scientist and co-author Sarah Kapnick.

Other places, especially northern developed ones, will gain some of what the tropics lost. England and northern Europe are big winners. Seattle should pick up nine mild days and Los Angeles, which already has a lot of nice weather, gets six extra by the end of the century.

The scientists didn't specifically focus on whether the loss of mild days has already started globally, but they did see it happening in much of Africa and South America, Van der Wiel said.

Climate scientists usually focus on extreme weather - record heat, tropical cyclones, droughts, floods - and how they could get worse as the world warms. Kapnick said she wanted to look at nice weather because her friends kept asking her what day to choose for good wedding weather.

The team used a middle ground scenario for global warming - not worst-case runaway carbon pollution and not dramatic cuts in emissions of heat-trapping gases - and ran different computer simulations to see what would happen.

It's not just fewer nice days to enjoy. Fewer mild days will also harm agricultural production and allow disease carrying insects to thrive more in more places, said University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd.

Stanford University climate scientist Chris Field, who led an international study of extreme weather, questioned the purpose of the study: "Extreme conditions are the sharp end of the climate stick. It is in the extremes when things break and damage occurs."

National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Gerald Meehl, who also studies extreme weather, said a decrease in mild weather may not quite have the economic and health costs but there are other factors such as tourism "or simple human enjoyment."

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Final Ringling Bros. show at Nassau Coliseum sells out http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170118/GZ0113/170119588 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170118/GZ0113/170119588 Wed, 18 Jan 2017 08:24:53 -0500 The Associated Press By The Associated Press UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) - Officials with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey say the iconic traveling circus' final show at the newly renovated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island is sold out.

An announcement was made last week that the "Greatest Show on Earth" would be shutting down this spring after touring for nearly 150 years.

The circus will be at the arena in Uniondale for 16 performances from May 12-21.

Newsday reports that seats normally going for $23.75 in the venue's upper level and $191.75 in the lower level are priced on the secondary market at $245 and $2,000, respectively, for the circus' last show.

Officials with Feld Entertainment, the producer of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, say declining ticket sales coupled with high operating costs made the circus an unsustainable business.

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Information from: Newsday, http://www.newsday.com

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Poll: Young Americans fear they will be worse off post-Trump http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170117/GZ0101/170119635 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170117/GZ0101/170119635 Tue, 17 Jan 2017 08:35:38 -0500 By JONATHAN LEMIRE and EMILY SWANSON The Associated Press By By JONATHAN LEMIRE and EMILY SWANSON The Associated Press NEW YORK (AP) - As Donald Trump approaches his inauguration, young Americans have a deeply pessimistic view about his incoming administration, with young blacks, Latinos and Asian Americans particularly concerned about what's to come in the next four years.

That's according to a new GenForward poll of Americans aged 18 to 30, which found that the country's young adults are more likely to expect they'll be worse off at the end of Trump's first term than better off. Such young Americans are also far more likely to think Trump will divide the country than unite it, by a 60 percent to 19 percent margin.

Fifty-two percent of young whites, 72 percent of Latinos, 66 percent of Asian-Americans and 70 percent of blacks think Trump's presidency will lead to a more divided nation.

"Minority people are very afraid of all the rhetoric that he ran upon (in) his campaign," said Jada Selma, a 28-year-old African-American graduate school student living in Atlanta. "Anytime he mentioned black people, he would talk about poor people or inner city. He would think that all of us live in the inner city and that we're all poor."

"If you're not a straight white male, than I don't think he's looking out for you as an American," she said.

GenForward is a survey of adults age 18 to 30 by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago with the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The first-of-its-kind poll pays special attention to the voices of young adults of color, highlighting how race and ethnicity shape the opinions of a new generation.

The poll found that 54 percent of young people overall say life for people of color will be worse with Trump as president. About two-thirds of young blacks, Asian-Americans and Latinos think things will get worse for people of color, and whites are also more likely to expect things to get worse than better for minorities, 46 percent to 21 percent.

Overall, 40 percent of young adults think they personally will be worse off four years from now, while just 23 percent expect to be better off. Young people of color are significantly more likely to think they will be worse off than better off, while young whites are more split in their personal expectations.

Kuinta Hayle, a 21-year-old African-American from Charlotte, said she is worried that Trump's selection for attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, could roll back civil rights. She said Trump's foray into "birtherism," during which he propagated the lie that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, still bothered her.

"That was very meaningful. It still hurts," Hayle said. "He doesn't know anything about my life or the lives of people who aren't like him. I feel Donald Trump is only for rich people. Obama was for people who didn't have much."

Although he had a decisive win in the Electoral College, Trump lost the overall popular vote to opponent Hillary Clinton and has done little to reach out to those who didn't support him in November's election. He focused his post-election "Thank You" tour on states he won, settling scores on stage as he boasted about his surprising electoral victory.

Over the weekend, Trump tore into Georgia Rep. John Lewis, among the most revered leaders of the civil rights movement, for questioning the legitimacy of his victory and saying he would not attend Friday's inauguration.

As for Obama's presidency, young Americans are split on whether he has done more to unite or divide Americans, 38 percent to 35 percent, with 26 percent saying it did neither.

Young blacks (57 percent to 16 percent), Latinos (57 percent to 19 percent) and Asian Americans (46 percent to 27 percent) are far more likely to say Obama united than divided Americans. But young whites are more likely to say, by a 46 percent to 26 percent margin, that Obama's presidency was a dividing force.

Indeed, not all young Americans are pessimistic about the incoming president.

"He'll be good for the economy. He's a businessman and he'll bring more jobs back," said Francisco Barrera, 26, of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, who voted for Trump. "I think he's going to do good and he's going to end this political correctness. You can't even say 'God' in the schools no more. Trump will put him back."

A majority of young adults think Trump will go down in history as not a very good president or a poor one. Young people of color are particularly likely to think Trump's presidency will be not good or poor, but even young whites are more likely to expect that than to think it will be good or great, 48 percent to 27 percent.

Young Americans are divided as to whether Trump will accomplish his campaign promises. While most think he'll probably cut taxes for the rich and more than half of young people (59 percent) think Trump will deport millions of immigrants living in the country illegally, just 39 percent expect that he will be successful in building a wall along the Mexican border.

However, about half of young Hispanics think that Trump is likely to build a border wall. And more than 7 in 10 young people believe he will definitely or probably succeed at repealing the Affordable Care Act.

"He's not even been inaugurated yet and he's already alienating people," said Greg Davis, a white 28-year-old graduate student living in Columbus, Ohio. "He's still parroting the alt-right's messages. His policy ideas I think would be awful. His nominees for Cabinet positions are disastrous. He's nominating people who have the exactly the wrong ideas."

"I think it's going to be a disaster," Davis said.

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The poll of 1,823 adults age 18-30 was conducted Dec. 9-12, 2016 using a sample drawn from the probability-based GenForward panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. young adult population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The survey was paid for by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago, using grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods, and later interviewed online or by phone.

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Online:

GenForward polls: http://www.genforwardsurvey.com/

Black Youth Project: http://blackyouthproject.com/

AP-NORC: http://www.apnorc.org/

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AP Polling Editor Emily Swanson reported from Washington.

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The last astronaut to walk on the moon has died http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170116/GZ0113/170119659 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170116/GZ0113/170119659 Mon, 16 Jan 2017 16:19:42 -0500 By SETH BORENSTEIN and MICHAEL GRACZYK The Associated Press By By SETH BORENSTEIN and MICHAEL GRACZYK The Associated Press Former astronaut Gene Cernan, the last of only a dozen men to walk on the moon who returned to Earth with a message of "peace and hope for all mankind," has died. He was 82.

Cernan died Monday following ongoing heath issues, his family said in a statement released by NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs. NASA said Cernan was surrounded by his family.

"Even at the age of 82, Gene was passionate about sharing his desire to see the continued human exploration of space and encouraged our nation's leaders and young people to not let him remain the last man to walk on the Moon," the family said.

Cernan, commander of NASA's Apollo 17 mission, set foot on the lunar surface in December 1972 during his third space flight. He became the last person to walk on the moon on Dec. 14, 1972, tracing his only child's initials in the dust before climbing the ladder of the lunar module the last time. It was a moment that forever defined him in both the public eye and his own.

"Those steps up that ladder, they were tough to make," Cernan recalled in a 2007 oral history. "I didn't want to go up. I wanted to stay a while."

Cernan called it "perhaps the brightest moment of my life. ... It's like you would want to freeze that moment and take it home with you. But you can't."

Decades later, Cernan tried to ensure he wasn't the last person to walk on the moon, testifying before Congress to push for a return. But as the years went by he realized he wouldn't live to witness someone follow in his footsteps - still visible on the moon more than 40 years later.

"Neil (Armstrong, who died in 2012) and I aren't going to see those next young Americans who walk on the moon. And God help us if they're not Americans," Cernan testified before Congress in 2011. "When I leave this planet, I want to know where we are headed as a nation. That's my big goal."

On Dec. 11, 1972, Cernan guided the lander, named Challenger, into a lunar valley called Taurus-Littrow, with Harrison "Jack" Schmitt at his side. He recalled the silence after the lunar lander's engine shut down.

"That's where you experience the most quiet moment a human being can experience in his lifetime," Cernan said in 2007. "There's no vibration. There's no noise. The ground quit talking. Your partner is mesmerized. He can't say anything.

"The dust is gone. It's a realization, a reality, all of a sudden you have just landed in another world on another body out there (somewhere in the) universe, and what you are seeing is being seen by human beings - human eyes - for the first time."

Three days earlier, Cernan, Schmitt and Ronald Evans had blasted off atop a Saturn rocket in the first manned nighttime launch from Kennedy Space Center. Evans remained behind as pilot of the command module that orbited the moon while the other two landed on the moon's surface. Cernan and Schmitt, a geologist, spent more than three days on the moon, including more than 22 hours outside the lander, and collected 249 pounds of lunar samples.

"In that whole three days, I don't think there's anything that became routine," Cernan recalled. "But if I had to focus on one thing ... it was just to look back at the overwhelming and overpowering beauty of this Earth."

"To go a quarter of a million miles away into space and have to take time out to sleep and rest ... I wished I could have stayed awake for 75 hours straight. I knew when I left I'd never have a chance to come back."

Completing their third moon walk on Dec. 14, Schmitt returned to the lunar module and was followed by Cernan.

"We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind," Cernan said.

He later acknowledged that he had grasped for words to leave behind, knowing how the world remembered Neil Armstrong's "giant leap for mankind" on stepping on the moon in 1969.

Before heading home, Cernan said he drew the letters "TDC" - the initials of his then 9-year-old daughter, Teresa Dawn - with his finger on the dusty gray lunar surface. He said he imagined someone in the distant future would find "our lunar rover and our footprints and those initials and say, 'I wonder who was here? Some ancient civilization was here back in the 20th century, and look at the funny marks they made.'"

Eugene A. Cernan was born in 1934 in Chicago and graduated from Indiana's Purdue University in 1956 with a degree in electrical engineering. (Armstrong also was a Purdue grad.)

He had been a Navy attack pilot and earned a master's degree in aeronautical engineering when NASA selected him in October 1963 as one of 14 members of its third astronaut class.

Cernan had the looks of an astronaut from central casting. "He's your classic sort of handsome debonair flyboy," said space historian Roger Launius, associate director of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

In 1966, he was pilot of Gemini 9, a three-day flight with command pilot Tom Stafford where they used different techniques to rendezvous with a docking adapter that was previously launched. On the flight, Cernan became the second American to walk in space, spending more than two hours outside the Gemini spacecraft.

Cernan would later call the mission, "that spacewalk from hell."

"It was very serious," said Launius, the historian. "He lost all kinds of water, his equipment did not work effectively. He overheated. His visor glossed over with water, he could barely see. He barely got back in the spacecraft."

Cernan's sweat so much he lost 13 pounds. The space agency was forced to go back to the drawing board.

"That was a really important learning experience," Launius said. "The difficult thing about that is they put an astronaut's life at great risk there. They learned the lesson."

With the Apollo program under way, Cernan flew on Apollo 10 in May 1969. It was a dress rehearsal for the lunar landing on the next flight and took Cernan and Stafford, aboard the lunar module Snoopy, to within 9½ miles of the moon's surface.

The mission was marked by a glitch when the wrong guidance system was turned on and the lunar module went out of control before Stafford righted it by taking manual control.

Cernan often joked that his job was to paint a white line to the moon that Armstrong and the rest of the Apollo 11 crew could follow. Yet Cernan was one of only three people to voyage twice to the moon - either to its surface or in moon orbit. James Lovell and John Young are the others.

In 1973, Cernan became special assistant to the program manager of the Apollo program at Johnson Space Center in Houston, assisting in planning and development of the U.S.-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz mission. He was senior U.S. negotiator with the Soviets on the test project.

He retired from NASA three years later. He worked for a Houston energy firm, Coral Petroleum, then in 1981 began his own aerospace consulting company. He eventually became chairman of an engineering firm that worked on NASA projects. He also worked as a network television analyst during shuttle flights in the 1980s.

A documentary about his life, "The Last Man on the Moon" was released in 2016.

Teresa was Cernan's only child with his wife Barbara. The couple married in 1961 and divorced 20 years later. In 1987, he married again, to Jan Nanna, and they lived in Houston.

In all, Cernan logged 566 hours and 15 minutes in space, more than 73 hours of them on the moon's surface.

"I can always walk on Main Street again, but I can never return to my Valley of Taurus-Littrow, and that cold fact has left me with a yearning restlessness," he wrote in his 1999 autobiography, also entitled "The Last Man on the Moon."

"It was perhaps the brightest moment of my life, and I can't go back," he said. "Enriched by a singular event that is larger than life, I no longer have the luxury of being ordinary."

Cernan is survived by his wife, Jan Nanna Cernan, his daughter and son-in-law, Tracy Cernan Woolie and Marion Woolie, step-daughters Kelly Nanna Taff and husband, Michael, and Danielle Nanna Ellis and nine grandchildren.

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Ivanka Trump lays groundwork for policy role in Washington http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170116/GZ0101/170119660 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170116/GZ0101/170119660 Mon, 16 Jan 2017 16:13:41 -0500 By CATHERINE LUCEY The Associated Press By By CATHERINE LUCEY The Associated Press DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - She may not be working in the White House, but that doesn't mean Ivanka Trump is staying out of politics.

Although she has said she will have no official role in her father's administration, Ivanka Trump has been quietly laying the groundwork for an effort that could make her perhaps the best-connected policy advocate in Washington. Trump, who has made clear she wants to push for policies benefiting women and girls, last week sought the advice of a group of female executives and media stars in New York City. And transition aides have reached out to congressional staff on child care policies, an area she has urged President-elect Donald Trump to prioritize.

In a Facebook post detailing her next moves, Ivanka Trump thanked people who had reached out on such issues and added that she is determining the "most impactful and appropriate ways for me to serve our country."

It is not clear if Trump will establish herself independently or if she will eventually enter the White House. But operating from the outside may take her into uncharted territory, as there are few recent examples of a first family member without a White House office advocating for policies. The closest model is the first lady, who has an office in the East Wing.

For now, the businesswoman has said only that she is stepping away from executive roles at the Trump Organization and her lifestyle brand and is moving her family to Washington so that her husband, Jared Kushner, can take a job as a senior adviser. She has also stressed that she wants to focus on settling her three young children in a new home.

But Ivanka Trump is also thinking beyond that.

On Thursday, she attended a dinner with female executives at the home of her friend Wendi Deng, ex-wife of media executive Rubert Murdoch. The dinner was put together by Dina Powell, a Goldman Sachs partner who is joining the Trump administration as an assistant to the president and senior counselor for economic initiatives. Powell has been advising Ivanka Trump and is expected to continue working closely with her.

Other guests included MSNBC "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski, model Christy Turlington Burns, former White House press secretary Dana Perino, Xerox Chairperson Ursula Burns, Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert, Glamour Editor-in-Chief Cynthia Leive and Time Managing Editor Nancy Gibbs. Another attendee, Pattie Sellers, executive director of Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summits, wrote on Fortune.com that Ivanka Trump "explained that she wanted to learn from the efforts of leaders in their fields."

Also there was Sheila Marcelo, founder of www.care.com, a website that connects families with caregivers, said an attendee who spoke on condition of anonymity because it was a private dinner. Marcelo spoke about the high cost of caregiving, both for children and adult family members.

The attendee said the group also discussed the Trump transition team's recent outreach to the House of Representatives' Ways and Means Committee staff about Trump's child care proposals. Asked about news reports about the outreach, Ivanka Trump noted that these were priorities for the president-elect, the attendee said.

A Trump Transition spokesperson declined to comment on the event.

Ivanka Trump's interest and influence on these issues was clear during the campaign. Encouraged by his daughter, Donald Trump offered a child care plan in September, which includes guaranteeing six weeks of paid maternity leave for new mothers, as well as some incentives to encourage employers to provide child care to workers.

The policy would require congressional approval - a considerable hurdle. Such proposals are not a high priority for Republican leadership and it's not clear how well they'll be received by conservatives in the GOP-controlled Congress.

Ivanka Trump has already made some outreach to lawmakers, including meeting with Republican women back in September. But it is not clear if, moving forward, she will lobby Congress directly.

There is little precedent for a president's adult child seeking to have that sort of influence, said University of Minnesota law professor Richard Painter, who served as ethics counsel for President George W. Bush.

The closest comparison would be the policy work by first ladies, like Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign. Painter said that first ladies are generally not subject to conflict of interest laws, though in the past they complied voluntarily like past presidents.

But Painter said to avoid conflicts, Ivanka Trump should, like her husband, follow federal ethics laws. For example, he said she should not offer her father advice on international trade if she continues to have a financial stake in her clothing business. He said he did not think Ivanka Trump would need to register as a lobbyist if she was a policy advocate if she was not paid.

Ivanka Trump has said she will take a "formal leave of absence" from her executive positions at the Trump Organization and her lifestyle brand - which offers shoes, clothes and messages of female empowerment. Her company will be run by the current president and a board of trustees.

The Trump team has said Ivanka Trump will divest some assets and will receive fixed payments rather than a share of the profits from the Trump Organization. No details have been released on her financial arrangement with the lifestyle brand.

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EU nations react with surprise, defiance to Trump remarks http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170116/GZ0101/170119676 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170116/GZ0101/170119676 Mon, 16 Jan 2017 09:28:32 -0500 By KIRSTEN GRIESHABER and RAF CASERT The Associated Press By By KIRSTEN GRIESHABER and RAF CASERT The Associated Press BERLIN (AP) - European Union nations reacted with surprise and defiance Monday to comments by President-elect Donald Trump, who said in an interview that he believed NATO was "obsolete" and that more member states would leave the 28-nation EU.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, speaking ahead of an EU foreign ministers meeting, said Trump's view on NATO and criticism that allied members weren't paying their fair share has "caused astonishment."

His French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault added that the best response to such an interview was simple - Europeans uniting.

In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Trump's positions have been "long known" but added: "I think we Europeans have our fate in our own hands."

"I'm personally going to wait until the American president takes office, and then we will naturally work with him on all levels," she told reporters.

Though Trump had made similar comments during his tempestuous election campaign, a repetition of the same points still came as a bit of a surprise since his choice for defense secretary, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, stressed his support for the alliance in his U.S. congressional confirmation hearings last week.

Trump's views, in an interview with German daily Bild and The Times of London, contradict Mattis, Steinmeier said.

Trump indicated he was indifferent to whether the EU stays together or not, a sharp break from the Obama administration, which encouraged British people to vote to remain in the EU in the June referendum.

"I believe others will leave ... I do think keeping it together is not gonna be as easy as a lot of people think," Trump said in the interview.

The British exit from the EU would "end up being a great thing," he said.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it's "very good news that the United States of America wants to do a good free trade deal with us and wants to do it very fast."

Trump was less kind to German industry officials, saying car manufacturers including BMW could face tariffs of up to 35 percent if they set up plants in Mexico instead of in the U.S. and try to export the cars to the U.S.

Such tariffs would make "the American auto industry worse, weaker and more expensive," Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's economy minister, told Bild.

Gabriel suggested Europeans exhibit more self-confidence in dealing with Trump. "We're not weak and inferior," he said.

BMW said Monday that the company would stick to its plans to produce cars in Mexico.

"The production is aimed at the world market," BMW said, according to the German news agency dpa. "Therefore the plant in Mexico will complement ... the production plants in Germany and China."

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Casert reported from Brussels. David Rising contributed from Berlin.

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Obama prepares for a busy retirement, more freedom http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170116/GZ0101/170119678 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170116/GZ0101/170119678 Mon, 16 Jan 2017 08:50:04 -0500 By JOSH LEDERMAN The Associated Press By By JOSH LEDERMAN The Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) - For Barack Obama, there's a presidential library to build, hundreds of millions of dollars to raise, causes to champion and a book to write. And don't forget that long-promised vacation with his wife.

Looming retirement is looking like anything but for the 44th president.

Obama's next chapter starts Friday when he becomes an ex-president. He'll be freer to speak his mind, set his own schedule and make some money.

Already, Obama is looking ahead to the book he wants to write, and has had talks with Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel about arrangements that could include speaking gigs.

At 55, Obama will be a relatively young ex-president, with plenty of time for a second act. He's ruled out running another campaign for political office - so has his wife - but he has pledged to stay active in the national conversation.

With President-elect Donald Trump headed to the White House, Democrats are eager for Obama to play the role of shadow-president, offering direction to those Americans who feel they lost their political compass the day Trump was elected.

Obama has said he has plenty of ideas for how his party can revive itself, but after eight years as president, his role will be to offer guidance, not to micromanage.

"I think it's appropriate for me to give advice, because I need some sleep," Obama told NPR last month. "And I've promised Michelle a nice vacation. My girls are getting old enough now where I'm clinging to those very last moments before they are out of the house."

Obama is expected to keep a low profile for the first few months after Trump's swearing-in.

Following some relaxation time with his wife and daughters in an unnamed location, the family will return to Washington, where they've rented a mansion in the upscale Kalorama neighborhood.

Obama has repeatedly praised George. W. Bush for giving him room to operate without having the ex-president publicly second-guess him at every turn. Still, Obama has reserved the right to speak out against Trump if he pursues policies the president finds particularly odious, such as a ban on Muslim immigration or mass deportation of children brought to the U.S. illegally.

"The party is in bad state and there are no clear, obvious voices for Democrats yet," said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University. "If there's anyone who could stand up to a President Trump, it's going to be former President Obama."

Obama may re-emerge in a more public way around the time he releases his book - probably sometime next year - and goes on a promotional tour. Obama's chief White House speechwriter, Cody Keenan, is expected to stay with his boss to help him craft the sequel to Obama's two previous best-sellers.

Though Obama has yet to fully settle his plans, four individuals familiar with Obama's thinking said over the last year that he's discussed post-presidency arrangements with Emanuel, a leading talent executive. One of Emanuel's brothers is Obama's former chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

It's unclear whether Obama will sign with Ari Emanuel. But the discussions suggest Obama has been looking to Hollywood for inspiration about ways to engage creatively and on multiple fronts, such as digital media and television. Emanuel didn't respond to a request for comment.

Whatever direction he chooses, Obama will not be pressed financially. He can expect to fetch an advance of more than $20 million for his book, said Keith Urbahn, a literary agent at Javelin DC who's handled best-sellers for top political figures.

"Half of the country still looks at him as their leader," Urbahn said. "From a publishing perspective, he will probably end up with the highest advance of any ex-president in history."

It won't be long until Obama and his wife start raising money for the Barack Obama Foundation, which is developing his presidential library and center in Chicago. The price tag is expected to approach half a billion dollars.

The Obamas will have to hire personnel in the coming months as they engage more heavily in designing the center. While it will be several years before the library is up and running, the foundation has left open the possibility it might start some programming sooner.

Former White House aide Amy Brundage, a spokeswoman for the foundation, said it would use 2017 to "build upon the work that has begun" to create a center that inspires people to take on big challenges.

Obama also plans to stay involved in his My Brother's Keeper initiative, recently renamed the "Task Force on Improving the Lives of Boys and Young Men of Color and Underserved Youth." He is also teaming up with former Attorney General Eric Holder on the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a new initiative to improve Democrats' hand when political districts are redrawn in 2020.

The hub of Obama's activity will be his personal office, to be housed in the World Wildlife Fund headquarters not far from his rented home. For the first six months, he'll also have a government-funded office overseeing his transition to ex-president.

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In early GOP win on health care repeal, Congress OKs budget http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170113/GZ0113/170119783 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170113/GZ0113/170119783 Fri, 13 Jan 2017 16:35:27 -0500 By Alan Fram and Andrew Taylor The Associated Press By By Alan Fram and Andrew Taylor The Associated Press WASHINGTON - Ascendant Republicans drove a budget through Congress on Friday that gives them an early but critical victory in their crusade to scrap President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

The vote trains the spotlight on whether they and Donald Trump can deliver on repeated pledges to not just erase that statute but replace it.

Demonstrating the GOP's willingness to plunge into a defining but risky battle, the House used a near party-line 227-198 roll call to approve a budget that prevents Senate Democrats from derailing a future bill, thus far unwritten, annulling and reshaping Obama's landmark 2010 law. The budget, which won Senate approval early Thursday, does not need the president's signature.

"The 'Unaffordable' Care Act will soon be history!" Trump tweeted Friday in a dig at the statute's name, the Affordable Care Act. Trump takes the presidential oath next Friday.

But the real work looms in coming months as the new administration and congressional Republicans write binding legislation to erase much of the health care law and replace it with a GOP version. Republicans still have internal divisions over what that would look like, though past GOP proposals have cut much of the existing law's federal spending and eased coverage requirements while relying more on tax benefits and letting states make decisions.

Friday's final vote was preceded by debate that saw hyperbole on both sides and underscored how the two parties have alternate-universe views of Obama's overhaul. Democrats praised it for extending coverage to tens of millions of Americans, helping families afford policies and seniors buy prescriptions, while Republicans focused on the rising premiums and deductibles and limited access to doctors and insurers that have plagued many.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the health care law was "so arrogant and so contrary to our founding principles" and had not delivered on Obama's promises to lower costs and provide more choice.

"We have to step in before things get worse. This is nothing short of a rescue mission," Ryan said.

"Our experimentation in Soviet-style central planning of our health care system has been an abject failure," said freshman Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Ryan was peddling "mythology" and said the GOP was moving toward making things worse for health care consumers.

"They want to cut benefits and run. They want to cut access and run," she said of Republicans.

"This is a sad day in the history of this country as Republicans begin the process of destroying health care in America," said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., who said the GOP has no replacement in hand.

"All you have is smoke and mirrors, and the American people are getting ready to get screwed," he said.

Approval of the budget means Senate Democrats won't be allowed to filibuster the future repeal-and-replace bill - a pivotal advantage for Republicans. They control the Senate 52-48, but it takes 60 votes to end filibusters, which are endless procedural delays that can scuttle legislation.

Congressional Republicans have made annulling Obama's law and replacing it a top goal for the past seven years. GOP rifts and an Obama veto prevented them from achieving anything other than holding scores of votes that served as political messaging.

Trump also made targeting Obama's statute a primary target during his campaign. At his news conference Wednesday, Trump - who's supplied few details of what he wants - said his emerging plan will be "far less expensive and far better" than the statute.

Despite their conceptual unity, plenty of Republicans have shown skittishness in recent days about the political repercussions of charging into a battle that, with Trump in the White House, puts enacting new laws within reach.

Many congressional Republicans expressed opposition to leaders' initial emphasis on first passing a repeal bill and then focusing on a replacement - a process that could produce a gap of months or longer. Trump has also pushed Congress to act fast.

Twenty million Americans are covered by Obama's expansion of Medicaid or by policies sold on exchanges, and millions of others have benefited from the coverage requirements It has imposed on insurers. Many Republicans have insisted on learning how their party will re-craft the nation's $3 trillion-a-year health care system before voting to void existing programs.

There are internal GOP chasms over Republican leaders' plans to use their bill to halt federal payments to Planned Parenthood and pare Medicaid coverage. There are also disagreements over how to pay for the GOP replacement, with many Republicans leery of Ryan's proposal to tax part of the value of some health insurance provided by employers.

Even with their disputes, the GOP's rallying behind their budget spotlighted the political imperative facing Republicans to deliver on a battle cry that has sustained them for years.

Moving ahead on the budget was "a bottom-line, party survival vote," said Thomas P. Miller, a health care authority at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

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Trump raises millions to cover inauguration's steep costs http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170113/GZ0101/170119803 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170113/GZ0101/170119803 Fri, 13 Jan 2017 08:41:21 -0500 By NANCY BENAC The Associated Press By By NANCY BENAC The Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) - The inauguration of a new president requires the recitation of a 35-word oath. That's it. Dress it up with some hoopla and glitz, though, and pretty soon you're talking real money.

Donald Trump will have it to spend.

Trump's Presidential Inaugural Committee has raised a record $90 million-plus in private donations, far more than President Barack Obama's two inaugural committees. They collected $55 million in 2009 and $43 million in 2013, and had some left over on the first go-round.

But while Trump has raised more money for his inauguration than any president in history, he's aiming to do less with it. Lead inaugural planner Tom Barrack said this week the Trump team wants to avoid a "circus-like atmosphere" in favor of a more "back to work" mindset that surrounds Trump "with the soft sensuality of the place."

Trump's committee has declined to provide details on how it's aiming to spend its hefty bankroll. Steve Kerrigan, CEO for Obama's inaugural committee in 2013 and chief of staff in 2009, said the $90 million fundraising haul looks like overkill.

"I can't imagine how they are going to spend that amount of money - and why they would even keep raising money," he said. "We planned the two largest inaugurations in the history of our country and we never spent anywhere near that."

Trump this week promised a "very, very elegant day" with "massive crowds." They'll arrive to find a party that isn't nearly as involved as Obama's.

Trump is holding three inaugural balls; Obama had 10 balls at his first inaugural. Trump's team also hopes to keep its parade to 90 minutes. The longest parade, with 73 bands and 59 floats, lasted more than four and half hours, at Dwight Eisenhower's first inauguration, in 1953.

The president-elect's inaugural team has also failed to attract the kind of A-list performers who turned out in force for Obama. Trump's announced headliners are teen singer Jackie Evancho, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Radio City Rockettes.

Spokesman Boris Epshteyn said the inaugural committee is "fully focused on organizing world-class events that honor our nation's tremendous history and reach every corner of the globe." Any excess money raised will be donated to charity.

Obama used his excess inaugural dollars to help pay for the White House Easter egg roll and other events in his first term, Kerrigan said. Trump hasn't specified what charities might benefit from any leftovers, but some of his past pledges to donate to charity haven't always immediately panned out.

Trump's committee has 90 days after the inauguration to reveal its donors, although some presidents have reported donations as they came in. A few contributors already are known. Among corporate donors, Boeing has given $1 million and Chevron, $500,000. AT&T says it has made both cash and in-kind donations, including quintupling phone capacity on the National Mall.

Alex Howard, deputy director of the private Sunlight Foundation, said the Trump inaugural committee is a "major vector for corporations and individuals who wish to make donations and have influence on the presidency." He said the big donations and the lack of speedy disclosure "set a tone" that has implications for the transparency and accountability of the new president.

To be sure, the inaugural lineup of balls, parade, reviewing stands, concert, dinners, bleachers and all the rest doesn't come cheap.

John Liipfert, who helped produce the Obama inaugurals, said big outdoor events in winter are particularly expensive, requiring robust sound and video systems, warming tents, fencing, barricades, security screeners and much more. As for the balls, halls must be rented, stages built, lighting systems constructed and draperies and floral arrangements brought in to dress up the decor.

"You'd be amazed," he said. "There are a million factors going into it."

And don't forget all those portable toilets. There were 1,100 along the parade route in 2013.

While a big share of the cost is covered by the private donations, taxpayers provide a considerable amount as well. They're on the hook, for example, to cover the close to $5 million cost of building the bunting-decorated 10,000 square-foot platform built on the West Front of the Capitol for the swearing-in.

The public also pays security costs for an event that brings together a big chunk of the U.S. political leadership, hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans and a fair share of protesters. Because those expenses are scattered throughout the federal budget, it's hard to get a fix on just how much the day will cost.

Some tabs are spelled out: $1.25 million for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, which is responsible for the swearing-in ceremony, inaugural luncheon and review of troops, and $2.5 million for overtime for U.S. Capitol Police.

More than 5,000 active duty service members and 7,500 National Guard members will take part, too. In 2009, spending by the military's inaugural joint task force and the Defense Department totaled $21.6 million.

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser says the city expects to spend at least $30 million, with the federal government reimbursing the full amount. So far, Congress has appropriated $19 million, and the city will go back to Congress after the swearing-in to ask for the rest.

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Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor and Ben Nuckols contributed to this report.

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GOP eyes early health care bill, but details vague http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170112/GZ01/170119831 GZ01 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170112/GZ01/170119831 Thu, 12 Jan 2017 17:52:48 -0500 By Alan Fram The Associated Press By By Alan Fram The Associated Press WASHINGTON - Under mounting pressure from Donald Trump and rank-and-file Republicans, congressional leaders are talking increasingly about chiseling an early bill that dismantles President Barack Obama's health care law and begins to supplant it with their own vision of how the nation's $3-trillion-a-year medical system should work.

Yet, even as Republicans said they will pursue their paramount 2017 goal aggressively, leaders left plenty of wiggle room Thursday about exactly what they will do. Their caution underscores persistent divisions over how to recraft a law they've tried erasing since its 2010 enactment, plus their desire to avoid panicking the 20 million people who've gained coverage under Obama's overhaul or unsettling health insurance markets.

In an interview with conservative radio host Mike Gallagher, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the initial repeal-and-replace legislation would be "the primary part of our health care policy" and would be followed by other bills. Later, he told reporters at the Capitol that, while Republicans will work quickly, "We're not holding hard deadlines, only because we want to get it right."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the early repeal bill would "begin to make important progress." He said Republicans "plan to take on the replacement challenge in manageable pieces, with step-by-step reforms." He set no timetable.

"Repealing and replacing Obamacare is a big challenge," McConnell added. "It isn't going to be easy."

The leaders spoke a day before the House planned to give final approval to a budget that would shield the forthcoming repeal-and-replace bill from a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.

Stripping Democrats of their ability to endlessly delay that bill - a tactic that takes 60 votes to thwart - is crucial for Republicans, who have just a 52-48 edge in the Senate. That chamber approved the budget early Thursday by a near party-line 51-48 vote, drawing a Twitter thumbs-up from Trump.

"Congrats to the Senate for taking the first step to #RepealObamacare - now it's onto the House!" the president-elect tweeted.

Trump, who enters the White House next Friday, has pressed Republicans in recent days to act quickly on annulling and reshaping Obama's law. GOP leaders seem to be taking his urgings to heart, although some have suggested his desire for speed doesn't match Congress' vintage lack of agility.

Asked how quickly lawmakers could send Trump a bill, No. 2 Senate Republican leader John Cornyn of Texas said, "The most important thing is, when do you get 218 votes in the House and 51 votes in the Senate," the majorities needed for passage.

"He's not a creature of this place, so there's always a bit of a learning curve," said the No. 3 Senate GOP leader, John Thune of South Dakota.

Obama's law, which he considers a trophy of his soon-to-end presidency, has provided health care subsidies and Medicaid coverage for millions who don't get insurance at work. It has required insurers to cover certain services, like family planning and people who are already ill, and curbed rates that the sick and elderly can be charged.

GOP leaders hope to use their first bill to void and rewrite as much of Obama's law as they can but, so far, they've provided little detail. Cornyn said in a brief interview Wednesday that the early legislation would "push some of the responsibility and resources down to the states and give them more flexibility," such as for Medicaid.

Republicans want to end the fines that enforce the statute's requirements that individuals buy coverage and that larger companies provide it to workers - mandates that experts say were needed to stabilize insurers' rates. They also want to erase the taxes the law imposed on higher-income people and the health care industry, eliminate subsidies that help people buy policies and pare back its Medicaid expansion.

But they face internal disagreements over policy, such as how to pay for their new statute and how to protect consumers and insurers during what might be a two- or three-year phase-out of Obama's overhaul.

They also must heed Senate rules forbidding provisions that don't directly affect taxes and spending from being safeguarded from filibusters. That means repealing important parts of the law - like the requirement that insurers offer coverage to all customers, including the most ill - would have to await later bills that would need Democratic support.

Democrats have so far solidly opposed the GOP effort, but one influential conservative health care authority warned Thursday that it would be best to work with them.

"Bipartisan support for whatever is assembled is the best way - and probably the only way - to ensure that what passes in 2017 is accepted by the public" in a way Obama's law was not, James Capretta, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who worked for President George W. Bush, wrote Thursday in National Review Online.

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CIA nominee agrees Russia tried to interfere in election http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170112/GZ0113/170119842 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170112/GZ0113/170119842 Thu, 12 Jan 2017 15:48:10 -0500 By Eileen Sullivan and Deb Riechmann The Associated Press By By Eileen Sullivan and Deb Riechmann The Associated Press WASHINGTON - Donald Trump's pick to run the CIA told Congress on Thursday that he accepts the findings in an intelligence assessment that Russia interfered in the U.S. election with the goal of helping Trump win, even though the president-elect has been skeptical of some of the report's conclusions.

"Everything I've seen suggests to me that the report has an analytical product that is sound," said Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Republican congressman. His comments struck a different tone than those of his future boss, who called the focus on Russia and the election a "political witch hunt" before he was even briefed on the findings.

Trump, for the first time on Wednesday, acknowledged that Russia was behind the computer hacking that targeted Democrats during the 2016 campaign.

As head of the CIA, Pompeo would be responsible for bringing to Trump intelligence assessments the president may find politically unappealing, including additional information on Russia's interference with the American democratic process. Pompeo promised senators on the intelligence committee that he would do so.

"My obligation as director of CIA is to tell every policy maker the facts as best the intelligence agency has developed them," Pompeo said. He is currently a member of the House intelligence committee.

Trump has been critical of the intelligence assessment that Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other political sites and that Moscow's aim was to get Trump elected. This week he said intelligence officials might be to blame for the leak of an addendum to the Russia assessment that was a summary of unverified claims that Russia had obtained compromising sexual and financial allegations about Trump.

The top U.S. intelligence official, James Clapper, said he did not think the disclosures came from intelligence agencies, and Clapper said late Wednesday that he told Trump the U.S. intelligence community "has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way."

Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent, asked Pompeo to comment on what King said were "very serious allegations" about Trump's ties with Russia.

"I share your view that these are unsubstantiated media reports," Pompeo said, adding that he thought the leaks themselves were "intensely serious."

Pompeo's was one of seven confirmation hearings held this week for senior posts in the upcoming Trump administration. Senators separately questioned Pompeo about classified issues after the public hearing.

On other issues, Pompeo said he will uphold the law and not direct the CIA to revert to using torture tactics to interrogate suspected terrorists. He also said that while he has been critical of the Obama administration's deal with Iran on nuclear weapons, he would carry out the policy as it stands.

Pompeo was a vocal member of the partisan House committee set up to investigate the deadly attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, which occurred while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. He told the committee that he understands that as CIA director he would have to make the transition from a partisan, policymaking lawmaker to an objective intelligence collector.

Adding a little drama to the hearing, the lights went out when the top Democrat on the committee mentioned Russia. The hearing was moved to a different building.

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Biden: Intel officials told us Trump allegations might leak http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170112/GZ0113/170119848 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170112/GZ0113/170119848 Thu, 12 Jan 2017 14:50:23 -0500 By Josh Lederman The Associated Press By By Josh Lederman The Associated Press WASHINGTON - Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday that top intelligence leaders told him and President Barack Obama they felt obligated to inform them about uncorroborated allegations about President-elect Donald Trump out of concern the information would become public and catch them off-guard.

In an interview, Biden said neither he nor Obama asked U.S. intelligence agencies to try to corroborate the unverified claims that Russia had obtained compromising sexual and financial allegations about Trump.

"I think it's something that obviously the agency thinks they have to track down," Biden said. He added later, "It surprised me in that it made it to the point where the agency, the FBI thought they had to pursue it."

In the hourlong session with The Associated Press and other news outlets, the vice president was sharply critical of Trump for publicly disparaging intelligence officials, saying Trump was damaging U.S. standing and playing into Russia's hands. He also took umbrage at Trump's comments accusing intelligence agencies of allowing the information to leak publicly and drawing a comparison to "living in Nazi Germany."

"The one thing you never want to invoke is Nazi Germany, no matter what the circumstances," Biden said. "It's an overwhelming diversion from the point you're trying to make."

Biden said that in the briefing he and Obama received from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and others, there were "no conclusions drawn" from the uncorroborated dossier, which was produced in August and then released publicly this week by the media. Biden said it was "totally ancillary" to the purpose of the meeting, which was to brief Obama on a report he ordered documenting Russian interference in the U.S. campaign.

"As a matter of fact, the president was like, 'What does this have anything to do with anything?"' Biden said. He said intelligence leaders responded by saying "Well, we feel obliged to tell you, Mr. President, because you may hear about it. We're going to tell him," referring to Trump.

Biden said intelligence leaders told him and Obama that they couldn't say whether or not the allegations were true or untrue. He said there was "hardly any discussion" about the allegations in the briefing.

"Neither the president nor I asked for any detail," Biden said. But he added of the dossier: "I've read everything."

Trump has vehemently denied the allegations included in a dossier about close coordination between Trump's inner circle and Russians. The dossier also included unsubstantiated claims about unusual sexual activities by Trump, attributed to anonymous sources. The Associated Press has not authenticated the claims. Trump has denied them.

The FBI director has refused to say whether the FBI is investigating any possible ties between Russia and Trump's presidential campaign.

The dossier was compiled by a former Western intelligence operative and had been circulating among news organizations and intelligence agencies in Washington for months. Its existence became known publicly following reports the intelligence community had briefed Trump on the dossier.

In the interview, Biden criticized Trump's rocky relationship with intelligence officials. The president-elect has publicly challenged their assessment about Russia's role in the election and suggested they have skewed evidence. Trump has received the briefing a few times but has insisted he doesn't need it daily and suggested he knows more than intelligence leaders.

Biden said it would be a "genuine tragedy" if Trump refused the daily intelligence briefing presidents traditionally receive.

To illustrate his point, Biden took out the black tablet computer he uses to read his daily briefing and showed it to reporters as he sat next to a crackling fireplace in his office, just steps from the Oval Office. He said it is password-protected and includes a feature he uses to ask questions about the intelligence that are responded to the same day.

Biden said at least five foreign leaders have already contacted him expressing concern over Trump's second-guessing of U.S. intelligence agencies.

"It is really very damaging in my view to our standing in the world for a president to take one of the crown jewels of our national defense and denigrate it," Biden said. "It plays into, particularly now, the Russian narrative that America doesn't know what it's doing."

After nearly half a century in public office, Biden will exit the national stage next Friday, although he plans to stay active in Democratic politics and work on policy issues at a pair of institutes he's developing at the University of Delaware and the University of Pennsylvania. He also plans to continue with the cancer "moonshot" effort he launched after his son died.

Biden was full of praise for his successor, Vice President-elect Mike Pence. He said he's been sending Pence memos with his advice on how to handle certain relationships, such as with Iraqi and Ukrainian leaders, and on "the things that could explode most easily."

He said Pence had been receptive to his advice but had less time these days to speak to Biden due to the heavy role he's playing in setting up Trump's administration. Biden said he's made his national security adviser, Colin Kahl, available to Pence but hoped Pence would quickly name a national security adviser of his own.

"It would be better if they had been in a better position where he actually had somebody that Colin could sit down with every morning," Biden said.

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Alec Baldwin looking to show off Trump impression in new venues http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170112/GZ0113/170119854 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170112/GZ0113/170119854 Thu, 12 Jan 2017 09:03:19 -0500 The Associated Press By The Associated Press NEW YORK (AP) - Alec Baldwin may be taking his Donald Trump act on the road.

Baldwin tells ABC News that he is "in discussions" with other venues for his impression of the president-elect besides NBC's "Saturday Night Live."

The 58-year-old actor has played Trump on SNL since last year. He says he will continue to play Trump on the late-night comedy show while also looking for other opportunities to spoof the incoming Republican president.

Baldwin says he is "not really influencing anybody's political opinions." But he says playing Trump is "one of the most fun things" he's ever done.

Trump has complained about Baldwin's SNL appearances on Twitter. He said last month that "the Baldwin impersonation just can't get any worse."

Baldwin is also hosting the game show "Match Game" on ABC.

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Tillerson takes tough line on Russia, vows support for Israel http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170111/GZ0113/170119870 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170111/GZ0113/170119870 Wed, 11 Jan 2017 19:58:20 -0500 By Matthew Lee The Associated Press By By Matthew Lee The Associated Press WASHINGTON - Barraged by questions about Russia, Donald Trump's pick for secretary of state promised a far more muscular approach toward the Kremlin on Wednesday, abandoning much of the president-elect's emphasis on improving ties between the Cold War foes. Instead, Rex Tillerson suggested the outgoing Obama administration responded too softly to Moscow's takeover of Ukrainian territory.

The surprising shift in tone by Tillerson, a former Exxon Mobil CEO and Russian "Order of Friendship" recipient, reflected the difficulty Trump will have in persuading Democrats and Republicans to broach a broad rapprochement with President Vladimir Putin's government. Calling Russia a "danger" to the United States, Tillerson said he would keep U.S. sanctions in place and consider new penalties related to Russian meddling in the presidential election.

Although he said he hadn't read last week's classified assessment by the U.S. intelligence community, Tillerson said it was a "fair assumption" that Putin would have ordered the operation that purportedly included hacking, propaganda and internet trolls to harm Hillary Clinton's candidacy and advance Trump's. But in a puzzling revelation, Tillerson conceded he hadn't yet talked with Trump about a Russia policy.

"Russia today poses a danger, but it is not unpredictable in advancing its own interests," Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He added that Trump's administration would be committed to the defense of America's NATO partners, an obligation the president-elect called into question during the campaign if allies failed to meet defense spending pledges.

While his prepared statement reflected some of Trump's desire for improved ties, Tillerson quickly pivoted under pressure from both sides of the aisle. On Russia's 2014 annexation of the Crimea region, he said, "That was a taking of territory that was not theirs."

Still, he criticized President Barack Obama's sanctions on Russia, which ended up costing Exxon hundreds of millions of dollars. And he declared that he would have responded by urging Ukraine to send all available military units to its eastern border with Russia and recommending U.S. and allied support through defensive weapons and air surveillance, to send a message to Moscow.

"That is the type of response that Russia expects," he said in a response to questions from Sen. Marco Rubio, Tillerson's toughest GOP inquisitor, who later lectured the oil man on human rights and hinted he might withhold his support. "If Russia acts with force," Tillerson said, "they require a proportional show of force."

Trump offered a sharply different account of Ukraine during the presidential campaign and never proposed a show of U.S. military force in Ukraine. In an August interview, he claimed Russia would not enter Ukraine, not seeming to know Russian troops were already there. He suggested Crimea didn't count because the peninsula's people preferred being part of Russia, restating Putin's reason for taking the territory in 2014.

Like Trump, Tillerson vowed complete support for Israel, which he called America's "most important ally" in the Middle East. He said the new administration would undertake a full review of the Iran nuclear deal to deny the Islamic republic the ability to acquire an atomic weapon. He said that might only be possible if Iran can no longer enrich uranium, which the accord permits under strict constraints and without which Tehran wouldn't have made the deal.

Some of the questioning reflected the traditional friction between a Congress that wants to prescribe foreign policy and an executive branch that traditionally seeks to maintain broad flexibility in its international affairs, tinted by Tillerson's vocal opposition to economic sanctions as a business leader.

Addressing some of Congress' most experienced architects of U.S. economic pressure, Tillerson called sanctions "a powerful tool" in deterrence that could, however, also project weakness if applied poorly.

He said neither he nor Exxon had lobbied against sanctions. But the company did try to influence sanctions legislation on Russia two years ago, congressional records and data from the Center for Responsive Politics show, and Tillerson made numerous White House visits, to no avail. Given a second chance on the subject, Tillerson sought to clarify his answer by saying he had expressed concerns related to security in shutting down an Exxon operation newly prohibited under the sanctions.

Tillerson represents a break in a longstanding tradition of secretaries of state with extensive military, legislative, political or diplomatic experience. Yet his supporters point to Tillerson's lengthy career as a senior executive in a mammoth multinational company as proof he has the management and negotiating skills to succeed in the State Department's top post, particularly when facing tough foreign governments.

"It's brilliant what he's doing and what he's saying," Trump said of Tillerson during a news conference in New York that occurred as Tillerson was testifying. "He ran incredibly Exxon Mobil. When there was a find, he would get it."

His Exxon experience, however, has been criticized by Democrats for possible conflicts of interest because of the company's far-flung business dealings. Tillerson, who stepped down as CEO at the end of 2016, said he understood being secretary of state meant different responsibilities. He pledged to be a steward for U.S. national interests rather than corporate ones.

If all 10 Democrats on the committee vote against Tillerson, and Rubio or any other Republican joins them, the nomination would then be referred to the full Senate with "no recommendation." That would be an embarrassment for such a high-profile Cabinet nominee and could signal a larger confirmation battle.

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Republican-led Senate to move forward on 'Obamacare' repeal http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170111/GZ0113/170119903 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170111/GZ0113/170119903 Wed, 11 Jan 2017 15:51:27 -0500 By Andrew Taylor Associated Press By By Andrew Taylor Associated Press WASHINGTON - The Republican-led Senate is poised to take a step forward on dismantling President Barack Obama's health care law despite anxiety among GOP lawmakers over the lack of an alternative.

Senate approval - expected late Wednesday or early Thursday - and then House passage would trigger committee action to write repeal legislation that could come to a vote next month. A full replacement would follow sometime after that, presuming Republicans can come up with one.

"We must act quickly to bring relief to the American people," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

President-elect Donald Trump said Wednesday that repealing and replacing the law should happen "essentially simultaneously," even in the same day, week or hour. That will be almost impossible to achieve due to complex Senate rules, united Democratic opposition and substantive policy disagreements among Republicans.

Republicans plan to get legislation voiding Obama's law and replacing parts of it to Trump by the end of February, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Wednesday on "The Hugh Hewitt Show," a conservative radio program. Other Republicans have said they expect the process to take longer.

The 2010 law extended health insurance to some 20 million Americans, prevented insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and steered billions of dollars to states for the Medicaid health program for the poor.

The Senate procedural vote will set up special budget rules that will allow the repeal vote to take place with a simple majority in the 100-member Senate, instead of the 60 votes required to move most legislation.

That means Republicans, who control 52 seats, can push through repeal legislation without Democratic cooperation. They're also discussing whether there are some elements of a replacement bill that could get through at the same time with a simple majority. But for most elements of a new health care law, Republicans are likely to need 60 votes and Democratic support, and at this point the two parties aren't even talking.

Increasing numbers of Republicans have expressed anxiety over obliterating the law without a replacement to show voters.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she wants to at least see "a detailed framework" of a GOP alternative health care plan before voting on repeal. She said Republicans would risk "people falling through the cracks or causing turmoil in insurance markets" if lawmakers voided Obama's statute without a replacement in hand.

House leaders planned a Friday vote on the budget, though Republicans in that chamber also had misgivings.

Many members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus were insisting on first learning details about what a GOP substitute would look like.

They also were demanding that once a future repeal bill becomes law, it should take no longer than two years to take effect. Some GOP senators have discussed a phase-in of three years or longer to give lawmakers more time to replace Obama's overhaul and make sure people now covered by that law can adjust to a new program.

"There's more elections and more uncertainty," Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., a Freedom Caucus member, said of his objections to a longer transition period.

Some more moderate Republicans were unhappy, including Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., a leader of the House Tuesday Group of GOP centrists. He said he would oppose the budget because there was too little information about the replacement, including whether people receiving expanded Medicaid coverage or health care subsidies under the existing law would be protected.

"We're loading a gun here. I want to know where it's pointed before we start the process," MacArthur said.

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Trump denounces 'disgrace' of reports of Russian ties to him http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170111/GZ0113/170119912 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170111/GZ0113/170119912 Wed, 11 Jan 2017 14:12:34 -0500 By Julie Pace The Associated Press By By Julie Pace The Associated Press NEW YORK - A defiant President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday adamantly denied reports that Russia had compromising personal and financial information about him, calling it a "tremendous blot" on the record of the intelligence community if material with any such allegations had been released.

The incoming president, in his first news conference since late July, firmly chided news organizations for publishing the material late Tuesday night. After weeks of scoffing at reports that Russians had interfered in the election, he conceded publicly for the first time that Russia was likely responsible for the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. "As far as hacking, I think it was Russia," he said and quickly added that the United States is hacked by other countries as well, including China.

Trump's extraordinary defense against the unsubstantiated intelligence report, just nine days before his inauguration, dominated a highly anticipated press conference in which he also announced a new Cabinet member, detailed his plans to disentangle himself from his sprawling global business empire, gave his outlook on the future of the "Obamacare" health care law and said he would soon nominate someone to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

"I think it's a disgrace that information would be let out. I saw the information, I read the information outside of that meeting," he said, a reference to a classified briefing he received from intelligence leaders. "It's all fake news, it's phony stuff, it didn't happen," Trump said in a news conference that saw him repeatedly joust with reporters. "It was gotten by opponents of ours."

Asked about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump boasted that it is an improvement over what he called America's current "horrible relationship with Russia" and did not criticize the Russian leader for any interference in the election.

"If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks, that's called an asset not a liability. I don't know if I'm going to get along with Vladimir Putin - I hope I do - but there's a good chance I won't."

Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer also denounced the report about Russia's influence on Trump, and the incoming president said it never should have been released. He thanked some news organizations for showing restraint.

A U.S. official told The Associated Press on Tuesday night that intelligence officials had informed Trump last week about an unsubstantiated report that Russia had compromising personal and financial information about him. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not allowed to publicly discuss the matter.

Trump and President Barack Obama were briefed on the intelligence community's findings last week, the official said.

Media outlets reported on the document late Tuesday and Trump denounced it on Twitter before his news conference as "fake news," suggesting he was being persecuted for defeating other GOP presidential hopefuls and Democrat Hillary Clinton in the election.

The dossier contains unproven information about close coordination between Trump's inner circle and Russians about hacking into Democratic accounts as well as unproven claims about unusual sexual activities by Trump among other suggestions attributed to anonymous sources. The Associated Press has not authenticated any of the claims.

Only days from his inauguration as the nation's 45th president, Trump announced that he would nominate David Shulkin to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, elevating him from his current role as VA undersecretary.

He promised that a replacement for the health care overhaul would be offered "essentially simultaneously" with the repeal of Obama's signature health law - something that would be virtually impossible to quickly pass given the complexity of the policy changes. Republicans agree on repealing the law but nearly seven years after its passage have failed to reach agreement on its replacement.

Trump has repeatedly said that repealing and replacing "Obamacare" was a top priority, but has never fully explained how he plans to do it. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said that the House would seek to take both steps "concurrently."

Turning to his plans to build a border wall along the southern border, Trump said he would immediately begin negotiations with Mexico on funding his promised wall after he takes office. He again vowed that "Mexico will pay for the wall but it will be reimbursed." Trump recommitted to his plans to impose a border tax on manufacturers who shut plants and move production abroad. While the tax policy could retain jobs, it would also carry the risk of increasing prices for consumers.

Trump also said he would probably name his choice to fill the vacancy left by the death of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia in about two weeks after the inauguration.

And he announced his plans for the future of the Trump Organization, bringing to the podium attorney Sheri Dillon of Morgan Lewis, who worked with the Trump Organization on the arrangement.

Dillon said the Trump Organization would continue to pursue deals in the U.S., though Trump will relinquish control of the company to his sons and an executive, put his business assets in a trust and take other steps to isolate himself from his business. She said Trump "should not be expected to destroy the company he built."

The move appears to contradict a previous pledge by the president-elect. In a tweet last month, Trump vowed to do "no new deals" while in office.

The lawyer said Trump would donate all profits from foreign government payments to his hotels to the U.S. treasury.

And pushing back against some ethics experts, Dillon said the so-called emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution does not apply to foreign payments to Trump's company. While some ethics officials have said that foreign leaders who pay for rooms and services at his various hotels would run afoul of the constitutional ban on foreign gifts or payments to the president, Dillon referred to it as a "fair-value exchange."

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Moscow denies having compromising information about Trump http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170111/GZ0101/170119924 GZ0101 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170111/GZ0101/170119924 Wed, 11 Jan 2017 08:27:41 -0500 By NATALIYA VASILYEVA The Associated Press By By NATALIYA VASILYEVA The Associated Press MOSCOW (AP) - A spokesman for President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday denied allegations that the Kremlin has collected compromising information about U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, deriding the claim as a "complete fabrication and utter nonsense."

"This is an evident attempt to harm our bilateral ties," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow. "The Kremlin does not engage in collecting compromising information."

A U.S. official told The Associated Press on Tuesday that intelligence officials had informed Trump about an unsubstantiated report that Russia had compromising personal and financial information about him. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not allowed to publicly discuss the matter.

After news reports were published about the briefing, Trump tweeted: "FAKE NEWS - A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!"

Peskov dismissed the report but commented that the allegations could be used to keep American politicians from wanting to improve ties with Russia.

"We should treat it with humor, but there is a sad side to it, too," he said. "There are people who are whipping up this frenzy, who are doing their best to keep this witch hunt going."

Peskov described the report as part of efforts to "keep harming the relations, not allow anyone to think about whether this is in the interests of both countries, the interests of the global community and what can be done to move from a total confrontation to a more constructive approach."

Russian state television provided a muted coverage of the report, dismissing it as fake and pointing to its release timed to Barack Obama's final speech in Chicago.

"The release would help Obama to slam the door even louder," Rossiya 24 television said on an afternoon news bulletin. Noting that different sections of the report were written in different typefaces, "it does not look like it was compiled by professionals," Rossiya 24 said.

At the Russian parliament, LDPR party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky on Wednesday defended the president-elect.

"This is just another attempt to derail relations between Russia and the U.S," he said. "Trump has earned an honest living in the U.S. and no one will be able to find fault with him. He has never been involved in any dubious dealings, and we do not have anything bad on him."

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Vladimir Kondrashov contributed to this report from Moscow.

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Obama tells nation 'the future should be ours' in farewell speech http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170110/GZ0113/170119930 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170110/GZ0113/170119930 Tue, 10 Jan 2017 22:47:46 -0500 By Josh Lederman and Darlene Superville The Associated Press By By Josh Lederman and Darlene Superville The Associated Press CHICAGO - Conceding disappointments during his presidency yet offering vigorous encouragement for the nation's future, Barack Obama issued an emotional defense Tuesday night of his vision to Americans facing a moment of anxiety and a dramatic change in leadership.

Obama's valedictory speech in his hometown of Chicago was a public meditation on the trials and triumphs, promises kept and promises broken that made up his eight years in the White House. Arguing his faith in America had been confirmed, Obama said he ends his tenure inspired by America's "boundless capacity" for reinvention, and he declared: "The future should be ours."

His delivery was forceful for most of his speech, but by the end he was wiping away tears as the crowd embraced him one last time.

Reflecting on the corrosive recent political campaign, he said, "That potential will be realized only if our democracy works. Only if our politics reflects the decency of our people. Only if all of us, regardless of our party affiliation or particular interest, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now."

He made no mention of Republican Donald Trump, who will replace him in just 10 days. But when he noted the imminence of that change and the crowd began booing, he responded, "No, no, no, no, no." One of the nation's great strengths, he said, "is the peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next."

Earlier, as the crowd of thousands chanted, "Four more years," he simply smiled and said, "I can't do that."

Soon Obama and his family will exit the national stage, to be replaced by Trump, a man Obama had stridently argued poses a dire threat to the nation's future. His near-apocalyptic warnings throughout the campaign have cast a continuing shadow over his post-election efforts to reassure Americans anxious about the future.

Indeed, much of what Obama accomplished over the past eight years - from health care overhaul and environmental regulations to his nuclear deal with Iran - could potentially be upended by Trump. So even as Obama seeks to define what his presidency meant for America, his legacy remains in question.

Even as Obama said farewell to the nation - in a televised speech of just under an hour - the anxiety felt by many Americans about the future was palpable, and not only in the Chicago convention center where he stood in front of a giant presidential seal. The political world was reeling from new revelations about an unsubstantiated report that Russia had compromising personal and financial information about Trump.

Steeped in nostalgia, Obama's return to Chicago was less a triumphant homecoming and more a bittersweet reunion bringing together Obama loyalists and loyal staffers, many of whom have long since left Obama's service, moved on to new careers and started families. They came from across the country - some on Air Force One, others on their own - to be present for the last major moment of Obama's presidency.

Obama's speechwriters spent weeks poring over Obama's other momentous speeches, including his 2004 keynote at the Democratic National Convention and his 2008 speech after losing the New Hampshire primary to Hillary Clinton. They also revisited his 2015 address in Selma, Alabama, that both honored America's exceptionalism and acknowledged its painful history on civil rights.

After returning to Washington, Obama will have less than two weeks before he accompanies Trump in the presidential limousine to the Capitol for the new president's swearing-in. After nearly a decade in the spotlight, Obama will become a private citizen, an elder statesman at 55. He plans to take some time off, write a book - and immerse himself in a Democratic redistricting campaign.

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US intel officials briefed Trump on potentially compromising report http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170110/GZ0113/170119932 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170110/GZ0113/170119932 Tue, 10 Jan 2017 22:35:29 -0500 By Eileen Sullivan and Deb Reichmann The Associated Press By By Eileen Sullivan and Deb Reichmann The Associated Press WASHINGTON - Top intelligence officials last week told President-elect Donald Trump about an unsubstantiated report that Russia had compromising personal and financial information about him, a U.S. official said Tuesday.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not allowed to publicly discuss the matter.

The briefing about the document was first reported by CNN. A summary of the allegations was attached to a classified assessment of Russia's attempts to meddle in the U.S. presidential election. Trump and President Barack Obama were briefed separately on the intelligence agency findings last week.

Shortly after news reports were published about the briefing, Trump tweeted: "FAKE NEWS - A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!" Trump was expected to hold a previously scheduled news conference Wednesday to discuss his future plans regarding his role with the Trump Organization.

The unsubstantiated dossier on Trump was compiled by a former Western intelligence operative as part of an opposition research project originally financed by a Republican client who opposed Trump and later funded by Democrats, according to Mother Jones, which published an article about the report in October and said the operative had turned over the report to the FBI. The New York Times reported the operative had previously worked for British intelligence. The Associated Press has not been able to substantiate the information in the dossier, which misspelled the name of Russia's largest bank.

The report had been circulating in Washington for months. In October, former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid wrote the FBI asking the bureau to publicly disclose what it knew about the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. Reid was aware of the dossier before he wrote the letter, according to a person knowledgeable about the subject who spoke on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

FBI Director James Comey earlier Tuesday refused to say whether the FBI was investigating any possible ties between Russia and Trump's presidential campaign, citing policy not to comment on what the FBI might or might not be doing.

Comey was pressed by Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee about whether the FBI was conducting an investigation. There was no mention during the hearing about the summary of the dossier, which was attached to the classified hacking assessment.

"I would never comment on investigations - whether we have one or not - in an open forum like this so I can't answer one way or another," Comey told the panel during his first public appearance before Congress since the election. In late October, Comey angered Democrats when he announced 11 days before the election that the FBI was looking at more emails as part of its investigation of Hillary Clinton.

Oregon Dem. Sen. Ron Wyden said the American people had a right to know about whether there is an FBI investigation into the Trump campaign's ties with Russia.

An active FBI investigation of the next president for ties between his campaign and a nation accused of meddling in the presidential election could further stoke mistrust in the legitimacy of the democratic process. It could also put Trump's own FBI in the awkward position of examining the conduct of those closest to the commander-in-chief.

The FBI was among three U.S. intelligence agencies that collaborated on last week's report on Russia's election activity. It tied Russian President Vladimir Putin to the hacking of email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and individual Democrats like Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta. It said there was no evidence the Russians tampered with vote tallies; the agencies said they couldn't assess if Russia succeeded in influencing Americans to vote for Trump.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who opposed Trump in the GOP primary, said Russia's activity wasn't guided by its support for Trump, but rather "to influence and to potentially manipulate American public opinion for the purpose of discrediting individual political figures, sowing chaos and division in our politics, sowing doubts about the legitimacy of our elections."

Democrats at the committee hearing focused their toughest questions on Comey, who was widely criticized for breaking FBI policy in his decision to notify Congress about additional information that came up related to Clinton. He is in the fourth year of a 10-year term, meaning he is expected to stay on in the Trump administration.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said Comey set a new standard by discussing the bureau's activity related to Clinton's private email server. That standard, she said, is the FBI discusses ongoing investigations when there is a "unique public interest in the transparency of that issue."

The intelligence agencies' findings on Russian hacking fit that standard, she argued.

"I'm not sure I can think of an issue of more serious public interest than this one," Harris said. "This committee needs to understand what the FBI does and does not know about campaign communications with Russia."

Sitting beside Comey, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said, "Fair point."

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Sessions tells senators he'd stand up to Trump as AG http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170110/GZ0113/170119939 GZ0113 http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20170110/GZ0113/170119939 Tue, 10 Jan 2017 20:09:47 -0500 By Eric Tucker and Mary Clare Jalonick The Associated Press By By Eric Tucker and Mary Clare Jalonick The Associated Press WASHINGTON - Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions fervently rejected "damnably false" accusations of past racist comments Tuesday as he challenged Democrats' concerns about the civil rights commitment he would bring as Donald Trump's attorney general.

He vowed at his confirmation hearing to stay independent from the White House and stand up to Trump when necessary.

Sessions laid out a sharply conservative vision for the Justice Department he would oversee, pledging to crack down on illegal immigration, gun violence and the "scourge of radical Islamic terrorism."

But he also distanced himself from some of Trump's public pronouncements.

He said waterboarding, a now-banned interrogation technique that Trump has, at times, expressed support for, was "absolutely improper and illegal."

Although he said he would prosecute immigrants who repeatedly enter the country illegally and criticized as constitutionally "questionable" an executive action by President Barack Obama that shielded certain immigrants from deportation, he said he does "not support the idea that Muslims, as a religious group, should be denied admission to the United States."

Early in his campaign, Trump called for a temporary total ban on Muslims entering this country but has, more recently, proposed "extreme vetting."

And Sessions asserted that he would confront Trump if needed, saying an attorney general must be prepared to resign if asked to do something "unlawful or unconstitutional."

Nothing new came out of the hearing that seemed likely to threaten Sessions' confirmation by the Republican-led Senate.

Yet, as he outlined his priorities, his past - including a 1986 judicial nomination that failed amid allegations that he'd made racially charged comments - hovered over the proceedings.

Protesters calling Sessions a racist repeatedly interrupted and were hustled out by Capitol police.

Sessions vigorously denied that he had ever called the NAACP "un-American." He said he has never harbored racial animus, calling the allegations - which include that he had referred to a black attorney in his office as "boy" - part of a false caricature.

"It wasn't accurate then," Sessions said. "It isn't accurate now."

"I know we need to do better, we can never go back," he said. "I am totally committed to maintaining the freedom and equality that this country has to provide to every citizen, I can assure you."

He said he "understands the history of civil rights and the horrendous impact that relentless and systemic discrimination and the denial of voting rights has had on our African-American brothers and sisters. I have witnessed it."

Politics got its share of attention, too, with Sessions promising to recuse himself from any investigation there might be into Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, whom he had criticized during the campaign.

Trump said during the campaign he would name a special prosecutor to look into Clinton's use of a private email server, but he has since backed away. The FBI and Justice Department declined to bring charges last year.

Sessions, known as one of the most staunchly conservative members of the Senate, smiled amiably as he began his presentation, taking time to introduce his grandchildren, joking about Alabama football and making self-deprecating remarks about his strong Southern accent.

He has solid support from the Senate's Republican majority and from some Democrats in conservative-leaning states.

However, he faces a challenge persuading skeptical Democrats that he'll be fair and committed to civil rights, a chief priority of the Justice Department during the Obama administration, as the country's top law enforcement official.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked Sessions if he could be trusted to enforce the laws he has voted against, including expanded hate-crime protections. He said he could, noting that he accepted the Roe v. Wade opinion on abortion as the law of the land even though he personally opposed it.

Feinstein said, "There is so much fear in this country. I see it, I hear it - particularly in the African-American community, from preachers, from politicians, from everyday Americans."

If confirmed, Sessions would succeed Attorney General Loretta Lynch and would be in a position to reshape Justice Department priorities not only in civil rights but also environmental enforcement, criminal justice and national security.

Also, Sessions hinted that he might be less eager than President Barack Obama's Justice Department to launch civil rights investigations of city police departments for pervasive civil rights violations.

"We need to be sure that, when we criticize law officers, it is narrowly focused on the right basis for criticism," he said, adding that "to smear whole departments places those officers at greater risk."

Sessions was first elected to the Senate in 1996. Before that, he served as Alabama attorney general and a U.S. attorney.

He's been a reliably conservative voice in Congress, supporting government surveillance programs, objecting to the proposed closure of the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility - a sharp departure from Obama's Justice Department - and opposing a 2013 bipartisan immigration bill that included a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally at that time.

In a dramatic turn, Senate colleague Cory Booker of New Jersey - one of three black senators - is to testify against Sessions today. Booker's office said that will be an unprecedented instance of a sitting senator testifying against a colleague seeking a Cabinet post.

In a statement, Booker accused Sessions of having a "concerning" record on civil rights and criminal justice reform.

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